Welcome to The Princeton Review’s Application Review Program. We are very excited to work with you on your path to Medical School!

You’ve worked hard for 4+ years and now medical school is so close you can taste it. Don’t let it slip through your grasp with a boring, unimpressive, unrepresentative application. Use this guide alongside our admissions counseling service to present yourself in the best light possible and cinch your spot in medical school.

There's a thin line between accepted and rejected! 

In 2015, there were 52,550 applicants to medical school, of which only 41% were accepted and 39% enrolled. There were 781,602 total applications - meaning an average of 15 applications per applicant.

AAMC 2015 app stats

Although the number of applicants continues to grow every year, enrollees are not growing nearly as fast. Every year, there are exceptional, qualified applicants who don’t get in. Every year there are below average applicants who get in to top medical schools. What’s the difference? How effectively the applicant markets and presents his or herself on the application. Acceptance is in the execution.

First things first: 

  1. Review the AMCAS Instruction Manual .
  2. Familiarize yourself with the AMCAS Fee Assistance Program here  and see if you qualify.

Application Overview

Applying as early in the cycle as possible is extremely important and can play a huge role in whether you get the interviews you deserve. The process is long and involved, so make sure you start early to ensure you can submit a complete and perfect application and save yourself some stress. 

Click image to view a larger version

Download the Admissions Timeline

What’s in the Application?

There are five primary components to your medical school application

  1. GPA
  2. MCAT Score
  3. Letters of Recommendation
  4. Work / Activities
  5. Personal Statement

The Importance of Your GPA and MCAT

The Holistic approach: Admissions committees will consider the totality of your application, not just one component. However, there are too many applications for each school to review (over 780,000 applications in 2015!). Most schools will therefore preliminarily screen applications for GPA and MCAT scores. If your grades and GPA are not above a school’s arbitrary threshold, then the rest of your application will not be reviewed and you will receive a rejection.

As you select your schools, use resources like the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements) book to help you select schools that generally fall into the range of your GPA and MCAT.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Once you meet the above criteria, it’s time to think about "Who Am I and What Do I have to Offer" as an Applicant. First think about yourself and your accomplishments in the following five main categories. It is important to think through how the participation or attainment of these accomplishments have helped you mature as an applicant, a future medical student and future health care provider.


  • This is more than just your GPA and MCAT score. Consider your other academic achievements that include Honors / Awards, Research, Study Abroad and TA/Tutoring experiences.
  • Research can help you gain a genuine understanding of the research process as a whole - including teamwork, thinking outside of the box and the extensive amount of time often required to achieve certain milestones. Thus, your experience may help you better appreciate and value the advancements in medicine as they occur.
  • Study Abroad can be important in taking you outside your comfort zone as your future patients will be "outside their comfort zone" in your practice. It can show an ability to demonstrate cultural empathy as well as understanding of being vulnerable.
  • TA / Tutoring experiences can capture how you have refined your communication skills, or how you were able to help someone comprehend and succeed through a way you explained something and how this is critical in health care.

Clinical Experiences

  • Examples include shadowing, paid clinical, volunteer programs, international programs (like summer mission trips, etc.) along with any certifications.
  • Medical schools want you to gain exposure to health care. They want you to be able to understand the life of different types of physicians and settings and to ultimately realize that the physician is the provider of services to people. Physicians are trained with a set of skills much like a mechanic is trained with skills to work on your car.


  • Examples include service in College/Campus, Community, Church and Internationally.
  • It is great to be involved in service and students always use the cliché that they "want to help and serve people" - but keep in mind that people serve us every day. More importantly, with service is the spirit of involvement and how you grow personally from the service you were involved with. Think and reflect on how you changed through your experience and how you are using it moving forward.


  • Within leadership experiences, it is extremely important to show how you developed and grew from that experience. As a future physician you will work with a team of people in your practice and the success of your practice depends on that team. A strong leader gains the respect of his/her team but they must also make the team members feel they are valued and important. It is about gaining and executing that balance.
  • We may have held positions where prior to assuming them we felt "we could do so much better;" however, upon assuming that position, we may have learned the reality of inspiring others for a cause. Use this opportunity to reflect on your lessons learned, accomplishments and take away points for the future.


  • This includes clubs, activities, interests and unique things about yourself such as background, challenges, work history and involvement in financing your education.
  • Interests and activities you are involved in can show an admissions committee unique experiences you can bring to a class. Background and challenges can reflect maturity, determination, resiliency as well as unique attributes you can bring to a class and the profession in the future - just as work history and educational financing reflects ability to employ time management skills for success.

These pointers can help you think about how to put your best foot forward and shine amongst the competition. These thoughts and reflections will/can then be used to construct a very powerful Activities section and Personal Statement that uses specific experiences and stories to reflect your maturity, readiness and commitment to a health care career.

In this section you are trying to create a clear and enticing picture of yourself that is distinct and distinguished, so that:

  • You stand out.
  • Schools get to know you.
  • Schools understand what you have to offer the medical profession and their program.
  • Schools see you are dedicated to becoming a doctor and serving others.

Pro Tips

  • Think of your application as a marketing campaign. Schools will assume that you have tried your best to portray yourself in a favorable light, therefore you should do this.
  • Sell yourself! Don’t lie, but tell the best version of the truth.
  • Use the fewest words possible that still creates a clear picture, and creates a sense of warmth.
  • Bring flare and infuse your personality, without sounding too casual.

Choosing Your 15 Activities

If you have used your pre-med time wisely, it should not be difficult to narrow down which 15 activities will go on the application. It is okay if you have less than 15, as you do not need to fill all the slots. Adding extraneous activities is problematic for two reasons:

  1. It makes you less distinct by diluting out your passions making it difficult for the reviewer to get a sense of who you are and what makes you you.
  2. It makes you less distinguished by diluting your achievements. This defeats the whole purpose of your application, so don’t self-sabotage.

Additionally, in order to avoid being perceived as a box checker it should be clear how each experience fits you and your journey to medical school.

Activity Components

  • Organization Name
  • Supervisor / Point of Contact
  • Experience Title
  • Date Range
  • Total Hours Spent
  • Description Box

Organization, Experience and Contact Name

Use these boxes as opportunities to grab the reviewer’s attention and make them want to read your description. As a reviewer, it can be tedious reviewing applications and it is the little things that make the difference. A snappy, interesting title or name can make them perk up and take note. Only use abbreviations and acronyms that are widely known. If your grandmother wouldn't know what it stands for, don’t use it. You can use the acronym or abbreviation if you spell out the entire name the first time you use. For example you can write “SWAT (Special Weapons Attack Team)” the first time, and then use “SWAT” alone going forward. You should use the most fancy sounding and descriptive name and title possible.



Bad Example: Valley Church
Good Example: Valley Church At-Risk Youth Program

Supervisor / Point of Contact
Bad Example: Dr. Johnson, Principal Investigator
Good Example: Professor Emeritus John Johnson, Principal Investigator
Bad Example: Bill Billingsley, Pastor
Good Example: Bill Billingsley, Community Activist and Church Leader

Bad Example: Intern; Water boy; Volunteer
Good Example: Selectee (selected for internship); Equipment Manager specializing in athlete hydration; Hospital Volunteer or Patient Care Volunteer

Date Range and Total Hours Spent
You may not remember your exact starting date or number of hours. If you are going to guesstimate, be generous because the schools are not going to quibble about a few hours or a month. But, again, do not lie. If you think you started in May or June, choose May. If you did 20 hours some weeks and 15 hours other weeks, either choose 17.5 hours per week or choose 20. Double check that all dates and hours are correctly entered. It is easy to select the wrong year, and quickly a 2 year experience becomes a 2 month experience.

Description Box (max 700 characters)

Basic Structure

  • One sentence/statement on the organization
  • One sentence/statement on the position or project
  • One to two sentences on what YOU accomplished (Distinguish)
  • One to two sentences on how the experience shaped you AND your medical school journey (Growth)
  • One sentence on how this will make you a better medical student and/or doctor (Desirable Applicant)


  • Describe what you did, not the generic position description. Ask yourself how you are different from every other pre-med student club president?
  • You and your passions should be the focus of all the descriptions and statements, not the organizations you worked for or the people who have helped you.
  • Don’t just write for the sake of filling up the box, sometimes less is more.
  • Be sure to include how you improved, matured and/or learned from the experience. Describe how it fits in with medical school and your future career as a health care provider.
  • Use a specific story to really bring the experience to life and drive home the growth points.

The “3 Most Meaningful Experiences” deserve their own section because they are critical to your application success. These are the three activities that you see as the crowning achievements of your entire pre-med career, the three activities that really show who you are and the three activities you want the admissions committee to pay the most attention to, so they better be the right activities.

Choosing Your 3 Most Meaningful Activities

Think about the following pointers to narrow down your experiences into those which could be "most meaningful":

  • Make sure your experiences had an impact on your growth and development that influenced the application you are writing today.
  • Meaningful experiences do NOT have to all be clinical or medical in nature. Traditionally at least one of your meaningful experiences should have clinical relevance but the other two could demonstrate and exemplify other qualities or attributes. These experiences are often what we refer to as “light bulb” events that opened your eyes or your understanding of medicine, or research, or leadership, or service, etc.
  • Make sure you can convey the impact of these experiences clearly. These experiences may ultimately also be reflected in some part of your personal statement and even more importantly in an interview down the road.
  • Think about the qualities and characteristics important for a person planning to enter a health care profession like compassion, communication, problem solving, patience, understanding of diversity and cultural issues, etc. Then reflect on the experiences and activities that you have listed. Think of those which helped influence your personal growth and understanding in one of these areas and the knowledge and insight you gained.

You are ultimately looking for experiences that demonstrate:

  1. Affirmation of your goals and characteristics that support them, such as listening, communicating, interacting with different groups, etc.
  2. Reinforcement of your values or beliefs, and supported your self-awareness of the medical profession, and
  3. Personal Growth in how opportunities have helped to refine your understanding of who you are as a person and your future career goals.

The strongest and best meaningful experiences show thoughtful reflection and expression of this!

You should do more than just recant the events or experiences. You should express as vividly and powerfully as possible the impact each experience had on you to make it “meaningful” (without being excessive).

Through these experiences, you hope to show medical schools that you possess what they often refer to as the “IT” factor. When you relate truly meaningful and impactful experiences from the heart – your passion will show through.

Let's look at an example:

You may have had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant or tutor. These are typically great experiences for an application but through these you may have also truly discovered strengths that you have for “teaching”.

As stated above, think about 1) Affirmation, 2) Reinforcement and 3) Personal Growth.

  • You may choose to explain how you used a certain technique or example to explain a topic or concept not only helped your students succeed but also empowered them and elevated their confidence.
  • This could then lead to a reflection on how you saw these same principles applied in a clinical setting. You might discuss how through your personal shadowing you witnessed a physician who was able to break down his explanation of an ailment and or treatment for a patient and empower his patient as well.

Description Box (max 1,325 characters)

Basic Structure

  • Two sentences/statements on the organization
      "Kids in Crisis Haven – Local community based facility for elementary school children to “hang out” after school hours"
      • Two sentences/statements on the position or project
          "This program was designed to provide a safe but also enriching environment for at-risk youth. Program mentors provide tutoring and counseling, as well as companionship and serve as role models when none may be present in their homes."
          • Three to five sentences on what YOU accomplished (Distinguish)
              "I began working at the center in high school, and continued volunteering there throughout college twice a week, for 2 hours each visit. I was assigned a youth to work with as a mentor. Each week my first responsibility was to assist my assigned youth with any homework or issues they were having with school. We then used our time to work in skills like sports and art. During this time, we were encouraged to work with our mentee to open up about their feelings and to help reinforce their sense of self and well being."
              • Three to five sentences on how the experience shaped you AND your medical school journey (Growth)
                  "Growing up as a minority male without a father figure, I understood the pain and the absence that many of these youths felt. I was fortunate in that I had a strong mother figure as well as male role models within my family who helped to bridge that gap for me. Most of these youths were also facing many additional hardships. I worked with the kids to convey to them that they were valuable and had the potential to excel."
                • Two to five sentences on how this will make you a better medical student and/or doctor (Desirable Applicant)
                  This is an excellent place to then reflect on a particular student and not only how you impacted their life but how the student ultimately impacted yours. Service is a great venue for not only demonstrating what you accomplished but also how you grew and changed through the service you performed.
                • In the end you allow the reviewer to see that you demonstrated perseverance (long term commitment to a program), empathy (for your mentee), and personal growth and awareness (an ability to look within yourself and your personal struggles, to share and give back, and in turn grow yourself). Make sure you provide a clear example your role in this experience rather than just words or canned statements like - “I helped students and tutored them. This helped me give back”

                Example 1: Unpaid Clinical Shadowing
                Meaningful Experience Remarks: When I applied to medical schools last year, I thought that I had a grasp on the responsibilities expected of a physician. From my own experiences with routine checkups and the care I provided as a CNA, I was certain that I understood the typical physician's day.

                In shadowing these physicians, I have found that I was quite wrong. Practicing medicine is a dynamic endeavor, even in very specific care. My experiences with each physician have been extremely insightful as well as a confirmation in my pursuit for medical school.

                When I first began shadowing, I met with Dr. White who practices family medicine. With my expectations in hand I thought I knew how the day would proceed. Instead, I was met with a plethora of illnesses and questions that completely caught me off guard. The depth of medicine and the demands of knowledge from Dr. White was both intimidating and exciting. From simple advising to thorough investigation, I discovered what becoming a physician really meant. I was also able to appreciate the diversity in medicine, from consoling a depressed mother to repairing a torn ligament, I was able to see the many different roles a physician can take.

                Shadowing these physicians has given me true perspective on the profession and has solidified it as the career I will dedicate myself to.

                Example 2: Large Group Tutor - Organic Chemistry
                Experience Description: Following the successful completion of my organic 1 & 2 courses receiving A+ grades in both, I was asked to be a large group student instruction leader. I soon found that many students were struggling with the same concepts. Instead of approaching them individually, I took note of what concepts seemed to be giving the students the most issues and designed a teaching session based on those issues. With permission from Dr. Sandberg, I announced when and where the teaching session would be held. The session included a worksheet in which the class completed together followed by a discussion of what problems each student had.
                Based on the positive student feedback, more sessions were scheduled and held. For each session, attendance ranged from 50 to 80 students. The sessions involved material from both Organic I and II.

                Most Meaningful Experience Remarks: When I first began my work as a teaching assistant for Dr. Orgo, I was unaware of how much impact one individual could have on so many others. While assisting I noticed that some students were still struggling with concepts that Dr. Sandberg had taught weeks ago. Organic chemistry is a cumulative experience, and to help these students fill the gaps in their chemistry knowledge, I proposed a large scale tutoring session. With permission of Dr. Sandberg and a positive classroom reception of my idea, I developed the first session. With the agenda prepared and classroom reserved I was expecting attendance in the range of 10-12 students. It was much to my surprise when 60 students filled the classroom on the first day. I was a bit rattled, but I persisted and lead the classroom through the lesson. As a class, we targeted the difficult concepts, and I focused on inspiring those who understood the material to teach those around them. Topics were presented and while I taught I promoted explanation within groups by students who had a firm grasp on the subject until a class-wide understanding was achieved. While the students were learning organic, I was learning that leadership is not simply making the choices and delegating the tasks, it also requires inspiring leadership in others and valuing each team member.

                Creating the Perfect Personal Statement

                Your personal statement is one of the most important sections of your application. Many schools state that your personal statement and interview performance can count as much 60% or more of your admissions score.

                This is your chance to describe your motivation and passion for your chosen career path as well your special strengths and unique experiences. So spend a good deal of time thinking about and writing this statement.

                The essay is not something you can do in one draft. Write, re-write, let it sit and re-write again! Check and double-check the spelling and grammar. If you are unsure about your skills in these areas, have someone skilled in this area proofread it for you. Also, have someone who doesn’t know you or is not close to you review (and re-review) your statement to see if they can follow your content and understand your message. Make sure before you submit that you are satisfied that the admissions committee will be reading the story you want to tell them.

                Outline Your Thoughts

                The typical reviewer will take away 3-5 key points from review of any part of your application (activities, personal statement and interview) so make them count!

                Before you launch into putting words on paper:

                • Outline the key thoughts you want to include.
                • Brainstorm on possible content and what message you hope to convey through each experience.
                • Be selective and avoid the temptation to include too many points.

                Think about your favorite TV show – think about the last time you watched it. You do not remember all the dialogue but you do remember key moments and scenes and what made them memorable. That is what you hope to achieve with the different parts of your application, building information about a memorable and “unique” applicant.

                Realize that most pre-med students acquire many similar experiences such as clinical shadowing, research, service, etc., but the presentation of these experiences and how you demonstrate their impact on your life can be the difference between in standing out amongst the competition. Meaningful paragraphs do not have to be earth shattering, but rather should show awareness.

                Let's look at an example:

                One student used the following story to convey her passion for medicine.

                Although she had over 300 hours of clinical shadowing, she had used her summer break to acquire her EMT-B training to afford her more direct patient contact hours. She also was working that summer in a day care center to earn money for the upcoming fall semester.

                  "One afternoon while supervising the kids on the playground, one child took an expected dive off the swing, suffering a typical childhood wound and abrasions on both knees. Armed with my new EMT-B skills, I immediately felt excited as I ran for the first aid kit and quickly ripped open the alcohol swabs to clean the wound. All of my focus was on my skills, my chance to "doctor," and right as I was about to enthusiastically clean the wound of my "patient," I glanced up at the sheer terror in the eyes of my tiny terrified pre-schooler.
                  Suddenly my focus changed, I set down the swab and set the young girl down. She and I looked at her wounds, I talked to her about what had happened, what we were going to do - and then I handed her the swab and together we cleaned her wounds. I was so caught up in treating my patient I had lost sight of the person sitting right in front of me. Since that time I have watched and tried to learn from my supervisors on my ambulance and ER shifts use words, not just actions to heal but also educate those PEOPLE not just their patients."

                Use your words and your examples to take the reader to your experience and convey that you understand what it means to treat people. The example that this student used was not a monumental medical procedure, but its impact and understanding were. Try not to just state that you have learned how to more effectively lead or communicate, but demonstrate it through the examples you provide.

                So how do you achieve this?

                Below are some tips (not rules!) for writing an effective and compelling Personal Statement:

                1. Create a list of topics and experiences that you feel will allow you to depict both your qualifications but also maturity and understanding of your chosen career path.
                2. Start to layout experiences that you feel will describe your journey to this point.
                3. Think about the overall structure using the 5-6 Paragraph Approach:
                  • Introduction: Begin with an opening paragraph that creates a "catch" that will engage the reviewer to want to learn more about you.
                  • Next 3-4 paragraphs: Highlight 2 - 4 key components about yourself that highlight unique attributes about yourself and your experiences. Try to convey these in 1 - 2 personal stories or experiences to make them more memorable. Allow your personality to come through so that the reader can gain an understanding of the person and their passion through this essay.
                  • Concludsion: This should be include a summation, a challenge, a "pow." You may decide to reflect back to your opening statement or maybe provide a statement on your feelings, or desires.
                4. Create memorable and distinct scenarios that will allow the reader a glimpse into your commitment and desire.
                5. Your personal essay should shed light into your soft skills, such as motivation, empathy, maturity, compassion and more. Get personal; depict a story, give details and provide the reader with a sense of your personality and values.
                6. Make sure to take the reader there in your descriptions when capturing a meaningful event. Write with passion and let your conviction and dedication as well as the impact that your experiences had radiate from the text you write. Remember that committee members typically have read hundreds if not thousands of personal statements in their time and they have heard the same stories over and over. Make sure your words stand out without being too flowery or overly stiff.

                What may be helpful to include?

                • It may be helpful to describe any opportunities you have had to do research, independent study projects, or some special class experiences or projects. In essence, your essay should clearly establish your qualifications and motivation for a career in medicine, and also allow the reader to evaluate your personal attributes, such as leadership, scientific interest, altruism, sense of service, and compassion.
                • You may wish to include one or two of the most meaningful experiences you have had. Discuss these subjects in depth, rather than write about too many things.
                • If there are any discrepancies or irregularities in your academic record you may wish to BRIEFLY discuss them. Have you had a bad semester? Was it because of illness, family problems, or financial problems? Have you had to work while attending school? Do not dwell on any of these problems (or make excuses for a lackluster performance), but they should be mentioned to explain any aspect of your application that may be viewed negatively by the admissions committee.
                • If you are a re-applicant, it is important that one of your foundational paragraphs focus on how you have used your glide year(s) to correct or address any insufficiencies in your first application. The glide time should always depict a time of growth and have demonstrated a positive impact on the applicant you are now.
                • Because your interviewer may use your personal statement as a basis for your interview, be sure that you have included topics that you feel comfortable discussing.

                What should I avoid?

                • Avoid simple declarative sentences. For example, instead of listing clubs and organizations (which are already listed in your application), interweave them into the story about yourself; i.e., who you are, your motivation, your interests, your experiences, and your history.
                • Avoid statements like "why I want to be a doctor" or "why I know medical school is right for me" - they know you want to be a doctor.
                • Avoid using the words “doctor” “medical school,” etc. repeatedly – remember, they are reading thousands of these same words. Make this a unique look into the unique “you.”
                • Limit the number of times you say “I” in your writing and create meaningful transitions between paragraphs.
                • You should never talk about your qualities/characteristics (such as "I am a very compassionate person"); the stories and your writing should reflect these qualities without you having to physically list them.

                Final Review Tips!

                When you and/or your reviewers read through your personal statement, ask the following questions:

                • Does my essay have one central theme?
                • Is my introduction engaging and does it “catch” the reader’s attention and in turn does my conclusion provide closure?
                • Do I use concrete experiences as supporting details rather than just making statements?
                • Have I used active-voice verbs wherever possible and have I limited “fluffy fillers”?
                • Is my sentence structure varied, and do I use all long or short sentences and how are my paragraph transitions?
                • Is my writing style personable and inviting without being too casual? Are there any cliches such as "cutting edge" or "learned my lesson?" Have I avoided phrases like “unlike other people….”?
                • Is my essay memorable and are their those 3-4 key memorable scenes/points?
                • What is the worst part of my statement? What is the best?
                • Are there any parts that are unclear or confusing?
                • Are there areas that are too wordy?
                • Does it reveal my personality and passion? If not, why? Does it evoke emotions in the reader and will the reader feel a connection to you as a person?